Delays in EPA's Regulation of Hazardous Air Pollutants

RCED-83-199: Published: Aug 26, 1983. Publicly Released: Sep 20, 1983.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO provided information on: (1) how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed a list of 37 substances which are subject to review as hazardous air pollutants; (2) the procedures and practices followed by EPA in preparing health assessment documents; (3) Science Advisory Board (SAB) involvement in the hazardous air pollutant program; and (4) EPA progress in establishing standards.

EPA developed a list of 43 potentially hazardous air pollutants based on a contractor study. This list was refined to 37 by adding 2 substances and removing several substances that were found to break down in the atmosphere or were produced in low volume. In 1981, EPA began developing a new procedure to allow it to more accurately screen and rank potentially hazardous air pollutants. EPA is also examining four other potentially hazardous substances and is considering analyzing others not on the original list. Because industry resistance to regulation is so intense, EPA believes that it must develop the best possible health case to avoid legal action. Therefore, EPA utilizes contractors and in-house experts to review and assess the health effects of each substance and to draft health assessment documents. SAB has disagreed with EPA over the sufficiency of data needed to show adverse health effects, and policy shifts since 1978 have caused additional delays concerning the type of information to be included in these documents. The resulting delays have increased the cost of health assessments and have delayed regulatory action on several substances. EPA will not make a regulatory decision on a pollutant until SAB has reviewed and approved the health assessment, which can involve returning to SAB several times for approval. Because the process takes about 2 years, EPA has been unable to meet the 180-day deadlines for proposing standards. In addition, EPA has failed to review three of the four hazardous substances with established standards within the mandated time period.

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